' Cinema Romantico: Seducing Dr. Lewis

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Seducing Dr. Lewis

Once St. Marie la Mauderne, situated on a tiny, remote island off the coast of Quebec, was a great fishing village. Its denizens worked hard all day but took pride in that work. Their lives may been simple but they were rich and rewarding. Now the town has fallen on hard times. The fish have dried up. Its shanties seem an encapsulation of rundown. Its few citizens - 120 - line up for welfare checks. One of the few who can manage an actual employment gig at the town bank is under threat of being replaced by a bank machine. But hope emerges! A plastics company, tempted by a desperate pitch by the town of a tax exemption, considers building a factory in St. Marie. There is, as there must be, a caveat: the town must prove to the factory it has a doctor. Which they don't. Because, seriously, what doctor wants to live and play off the remote coast of Quebec?


"Seducing Dr. Lewis" (2003), directed by Jean-Francois Pouliot, is what you might call one of them humanist comedies. There is funny, sure, but it comes not from forced gags and out of the blue one liners and projectile vomit. Rather the script, written by Ken Scott, simply lets these villagers be who they are and their natural reactions to the situation at hand are therefore often humorous, endearing and true. Usually all three at once.

With St. Marie's actual Mayor having fled for a real job in the "city", Germain Lesage (Raymond Bouchard) appoints himself the position and presents himself the task of tracking down a doctor to show to the factory. Fate intervenes and Dr. Christopher Lewis (David Boutin) arrives by boat and then by another, smaller, decrepit boat to find a town whose interests incredibly link up with his. St. Marie is heavily invested in cricket. Beef Stroganoff is the special at the lone diner. A local radio station is devoted to the wonders of fusion jazz. Heck, the fatherless Dr. Lewis finds himself quite moved when Germain spins the tale of his young son having perished much too soon.

But, of course, in reality, St. Marie knows nothing of cricket (they like hockey). Stroganoff seems a foreign delicacy. One character openly declares: "I challenge anyone to listen to fusion jazz!" And Germain's story of his young son is a....(No, Nick, don't do it! I said, don't do it! Noooooooo!)....fish tale. Heck, this doesn't even consider the fact that Germain and his crack team have tapped the doctor's phone to glean info to maintain the charade. All this is merely a means to bait and then hook (those are the movie's words, not mine) this city slicker into staying put at such a seemingly dismal outpost.

Dr. Lewis, as we know from the get-go, is on a collision course with the truth. The truth, you might say, is represented by St. Marie's lovely Eve (Lucie Laurier). She's the one who hands out the welfare checks and who refuses Dr. Lewis's timid, genuine advances and who does not partake in the town's charade. She's the one who tells him what's what at the crucial moment. Why, you might wonder, does she wait so long? And why, you may ask, did I just give that little nugget away?

Look, the charms of these sorts of movie do not rest in the eventual revelation but in the build up to that revelation and in the way both the people pulling the ruse and the ruse's victim both reach that greater understanding who they are and what this means. Sure, tapping someone's telephone is, you know, illegal and immoral but St. Marie isn't doing it out of mean spirit. Truly, they're not. They're doing it out of desperation. Occasionally there is nobility in being disingenuous. Everyone knows the legend of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and then not being to lie about it but how many know the truth of our greatest Founding Father's ring of spies and his spectacular web of misinformation used to deceive the British? He employed copius lies to earn victory in the so-called Glorious Cause. St. Marie la Mauderne might not be fighting for independence but they are fighting for survival.

Whatever it takes. But, you know, only in specific situations. 

2 comments:

Simon said...

We just finished watching this in French class. It amused me.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Damn it! We never got to watch anything cool like this in my old Spanish classes. You'd think they could have provided some Almodovar or some early Penelope Cruz, something, but no. Nothing. THAT would have made me want to learn!